Following the death of the ailing mother she took care of for years, Long Islander Doris Miller (Sally Field) finds herself directionless. Her caddish brother (Stephen Root) and even more loathsome sister-in-law (Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to clear out all the junk from her mom’s house so they can take control of the property for themselves. Her best friend (Tyne Daly) tries to ease Doris’ tensions with tough love. Doris’ therapist (Elizabeth Reaser) is at a loss for what to do. Doris works as a data entry clerk at a trendy fashion design firm that could care less about her existence, and they only seem to keep her on out of some sense of political correctness and liberal guilt. The only joy Doris gets out of her lonely days comes from her stalker-like crush on the new guy at the office, John (Max Greenfield), a transplant from California and the only person in the office to show genuine kindness towards her.

From the description, the comedy Hello, My Name is Doris sounds a lot darker than it actually is. But this directorial effort from sketch comedy mastermind Michael Showalter – adapting a short film originally made by co-writer Laura Terruso – hits an emotional sweet spot. It’s a predictable kind of unrequited love story, but one that’s not too dark to be disturbing and not saccharine enough to mask that what Doris does is inherently wrong. It’s a character study of a troubled person worthy of audience sympathy and forgiveness.

Via some inauspicious deceptions bound to collapse at a moment’s notice, Doris inserts herself into John’s life, becoming a sensation among John’s Brooklynite hipster friends. Considering the character’s obvious rut and backstory, it’s hard not to feel good for Doris. She’s confused and making things up as she goes along, but Terruso and Showalter walk the fine line between outright hipster parody and portraying Doris as someone these young people could look up to and learn from. Through the flawed archetypes surrounding her, Doris learns for probably the first time in her life what it means to have friends and how to let go of her troubles. While the impetus for this change in Doris might be taking a self-help DVD a bit too literally (delivered pitch perfectly by Peter Gallagher), Showalter and Terruso make it known that although the main character can’t see it for herself, the inner strength to make friends in the first place comes from within.

The character of Doris would be a challenge for any seasoned performer, but Field gives her best performance since Norma Rae. She plays the character’s subtext subtly to make the broader comedic aspects of the character pop. Every male figure in her life (her brother, her father, a past fiancée) abandoned her, and taking care of mom left her with no personal life or ambition. Field lets those rooted traumas simmer until the finest moments in the film where she has to confront her own anger in spectacularly cathartic fashion. Her social awkwardness is sometimes cringe-inducing, but more often than not it’s quite winsome, and more importantly genuine. Her chemistry with Greenfield and Daly – both of whom haven’t had roles this great in quite some time – showcases a generous performance. There’s always a sense that every character cares about Doris more than she cares about herself.

As with most films where the lead character is a fraud, the audience predictably has to wait for the other shoe to drop. There are few surprises contained within Hello, My Name is Doris, but there’s no need for them. It’s a solidly mounted character study, not some sort of potboiler. In this respect, Showalter and company do more than they need to for the film’s success, but the efforts are truly appreciated.